Archive for the ‘evangelism’ Category

Prayer: the Greater Work

Prayer

Prayer does not equip us for greater works— prayer is the greater work. Yet we think of prayer as some commonsense exercise of our higher powers that simply prepares us for God’s work. In the teachings of Jesus Christ, prayer is the working of the miracle of redemption in me, which produces the miracle of redemption in others, through the power of God. The way fruit remains firm is through prayer, but remember that it is prayer based on the agony of Christ in redemption, not on my own agony. We must go to God as His child, because only a child gets his prayers answered; a “wise” man does not.  –Oswald Chambers

As if this time of pandemic isn’t bad enough, one can hardly look at the news without seeing a “peaceful” protest turned violent in another one of our cities. The Rev. Canon Phil Ashley of the American Anglican Council has explained the situation like this. We face a culture that is “…increasingly shaped by the forces of aggressive secularism, moral relativism, religious pluralism, individual autonomy and a Utopian hope in secular authority.” As more and more Americans push God out of their lives, social, cultural and spiritual chaos is filling the vacuum. When a country or society pushes God out, it opens the door for the enemy to come in.

It’s easy to despair in situations such as this, but hopelessness is not a state of mind Christians should possess.  The same Jesus who calmed the storm by saying “Peace, be still” on the Sea of Galilee is in control of our lives today. Hebrews 12:28-29 says we live in an unshakable kingdom: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” 

Christians have nothing to fear in the midst of today’s chaos.  Our kingdom is unshakable. As the late Rev. Dr. Billy Graham said, “I’ve read the last page of the Bible. It’s all going to turn out all right.” It doesn’t matter whether you believe “Black Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or “All Lives Matter.” These are all summed up in two words, “Jesus Matters.” Politicians will tell you that we need this or that, but all we need is Jesus. Now is the time for Christians to focus on the greater work and pray to almighty God for the revival of our nation, while we share our faith with those we encounter who have lost all hope.  

A Prayer for the Nation

Lord God, we have not been faithful people in these recent times. As a result, our peaceful and quiet nation has turned into a chaotic one. So many bad things are happening all around because we have given the enemy a footing over our lives and nation. O heavenly Father, turn our hearts towards you. Help us to live peaceful and quiet lives. Let our leaders advocate for peace and love instead of chaos. May the words that come from their mouths be words that edify the nation. May we find peace within our borders. In Jesus’ name, I believe and pray, Amen.

Transformed not Conformed

Parthenon

The Parthenon (Temple of Athena) Athens, Greece

The lines between right and wrong are growing increasingly blurry in American society today.  Modern culture encourages us to be more accepting and inclusive. Our elected officials have passed many laws at the national, state and local levels that conflict with a Christian world view. Americans are bombarded with modern culture images, messages and social mores in the broadcast, cable, print and web news sites, as well as on the ever-increasing social media and other Internet websites.   

Despite the rapid social changes and pressures to conform, for matters of Christian faith and living the deciding question remains “what does the Bible say?”  When the Apostle Paul and Silas visited the city of Berea on a missionary journey, Paul preached the Gospel in the local synagogue, where it was received with great enthusiasm. Acts 17: 11 (NIV) says that the Berean Jews “…received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bereans recognized the authority of the Scriptures. Acts 17 goes on to tell us that as a result of Paul’s preaching there, many Berean Jews believed, as well as many prominent Greek women and men.

My wife and I are currently participating in a small group study examining the collision of Christian, Jewish, Roman and Hellenistic cultures during the ministry of the Apostle Paul.  Hellenistic culture was the pervasive Greek culture that influenced the entire Mediterranean region during Paul’s time.

Paul’s journeys led him to Corinth, a flourishing, modern Roman colony that Julius Caesar had intentionally populated with second rate Roman citizens, most of whom had failed in life while living in Rome. In Paul’s day, the city was wicked and corrupt, filled with prostitutes, crooks, swindlers and lowlifes. Corinth had a Jewish synagogue and Paul was eager to share the Gospel there.

Paul arrived in Corinth with only the possessions he was carrying.  Shortly after arriving, he met a Jewish, Christian married couple named Priscilla and Aquila. Like Paul, they were tentmakers by trade and they owned a business in Corinth.  They took Paul into their business and invited him to live in their home, where Corinth’s first house church was established. 

Paul frequented the synagogue in Corinth, but met with much resistance from the Jewish leaders.  Growing weary of Paul’s message, these leaders eventually drug him before the local Roman proconsul Gallio in AD 51 and brought a series of charges against him. When Gallio learned that the dispute was about Jewish law and that Paul had not violated any Roman laws, he refused to judge the case and told the Jewish leaders to settle the matter themselves. Paul’s attempt to convert the Corinthian Jews failed.

After this, Paul turned away from the Jews in Corinth and took his message to the local gentiles.  Subsequently, many converted to the faith.  These converts included a high-level Corinthian leader named Erastus. The NIV translation of Paul’s epistle to the Romans refers to him as the “Director of Public Work” in Corinth. After Paul’s eventual departure from Corinth, he wrote to the Corinthian church, telling them that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). What a concept for people surrounded by pagan shrines and magnificent Greek and Roman temples!

Paul also journeyed to Athens hoping to spread the Gospel.  Athens was the center of Hellenistic culture, a city full of temples and idols.  There Paul had the opportunity to preach to the Areopagite Council (or Areopagus), a powerful, court-like body made up of Athenian aristocrats.  Despite Paul’s immense knowledge of the Scriptures and his skills in persuasive speaking, he failed to persuade the Areopagus. Paul failed to establish a church in Athens and departed the city in disappointment. 

Like Paul, Christians today will not always succeed against the tide of negative cultural change and influences, but they can remain steadfast in their beliefs without succumbing to cultural pressures. Paul succeeded in forming churches in some places and failed in others, but his approach was always based upon the same foundation—a deep knowledge of the scriptures; reliance upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and living in a manner that glorified Christ.

As Christians living in modern American society, we can learn a lot from Paul. We live in a culture filled with idols—people or objects we value more than God.  We may not literally bow down to these idols, but we worship them all the same.  Rather than existing as statues and shrines, today’s idols are more likely to adorn the covers of gossip and fashion magazines, make movies, play professional sports, or work in politics, i.e. modern cults of personality.  Some people idolize inanimate objects like money, expensive cars, exquisite homes, extravagant vacations, or their jobs. Others make idols of wealth, drugs, alcohol, cell phones, social media or Internet porn. I shudder to think what negative effects the advent of the sex robots will have on our culture. 

Today, in a world that’s filled with idols, Paul’s warning to the church in Rome is more relevant than ever:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good,  pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2 (NIV)

J.B. Phillips’s, author of the bestselling book Your God is Too Small, paraphrases Romans 12:2 like this: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity”

Christians must let God’s spirit shape their lives, not the influences of modern culture. Let Colossians 3:12 (NIV) be your guide:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,  clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Christians in the early Church influenced the culture around them because they loved one another and cared for the sick, the homeless, orphans, widows, lepers and other disenfranchised members of society.  The conversion of Rome to Christianity didn’t occur through power and intimidation, but through weakness and self-sacrifice. Think about these words from Paul:

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults,in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NIV)

Christians in America cannot stem the tide of the negative cultural influences that constantly collide with our lives and Christian world view, but we can focus on the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to shape our hearts and minds. In this politically charged era, we still have certain obligations to our laws and government that we must adhere to as the price for living in this great nation; but as  Jesus said, we must “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”  We must obey the laws of the land and work to change those laws when necessary, but we must not allow our Christian beliefs to be conformed to modern culture. In every situation, remember to ask, “What does the Bible say?”

 

 

Bluegrass in my Blood

Pine Mountain Kentucky

Pine Mountain, Kentucky

I was born in the small town of Harlan, deep in the Appalachian Mountains of southeastern Kentucky. Southeastern Kentucky has close ties to parts of western West Virginia, southwestern Virginia; western North Carolina; and eastern Tennessee.  The entire region has a distinct culture that includes its own spoken dialect, cuisine and music. The mountains, culture and good people living there get in your blood and they’re impossible to forget, no matter how long or far one roams.  The regional music, widely known as Bluegrass, traces its roots back to Ireland, Scotland and England.

I find the music particularly enjoyable.  Bluegrass is notable for its combination of stringed instruments—specifically the banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Acoustic guitar and upright bass are common as well.  The music is also notable for many singers who care more about belting out the lyrics than staying in tune.  My affinity for Bluegrass music is something my wife tolerates, but doesn’t quite understand.  I’m particularly fond of the Bluegrass Gospel subgenre.  I grew up hearing it at home, at church and places all around our home.

Gospel Bluegrass tells the story of Jesus Christ as only mountain people can tell it.   If you’re not familiar with this music, it’s only fitting that I introduce you to it with a piece by Bill Monroe, who is commonly recognized as the “Father of Bluegrass.”  Since this is Holy Week, a good place to begin exploring is:

Were you there (when they crucified my Lord), performed by Bill Monroe.  It describes the feelings that many of the onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion must have felt.

https://youtu.be/5EHP5Nj2BdE

Power in the Blood, performed by Dolly Parton.  It’s impossible to discuss Bluegrass music without the name of Dolly Parton coming up.  Dolly is a Tennessee girl whose voice is perfectly suited for the genre.  Her song of redemption discusses the power of Jesus’ blood to wash away our sins. “There’s power in the blood of the Lamb.”

https://youtu.be/B1CV-HtsMvc

I’m ready to go, performed by Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. Ricky Skaggs, a Kentucky native, is a multi-talented musician with a Bluegrass legacy dating back to the days of Lester Flat and Earl Scruggs.  Skaggs’ group Kentucky Thunder has a powerful, fast-paced style.  The group’s rendition of I’m ready to go is about salvation through Jesus Christ.  I promise it’ll get stuck in our head. “Jesus came in and saved my soul from sin, Hallelujah I’m ready to go.”

 https://youtu.be/pjrJKnVmQwQ

The darkest hour is just before dawn, performed by Emmylou Harris. Alabama native Emmylou Harris has proven herself in a variety of genres, including folk, rock, country and Bluegrass.  She slows down the tempo with a Ralph Stanley salvation song. “Lay down your soul, let Jesus in.”

https://youtu.be/_r0FtxqR9Pc

One can’t listen to Gospel Bluegrass without hearing a song about eternal life in heaven that’s promised to Christ’s believers.  Here are two examples.  The Stanley brothers slow it down with their rendition of Angel Band.   Alison Kraus and Gillian Welch pick it up with I’ll Fly Away.

Angel Band, performed by the Stanley Brothers. “Bear me away on your white wings to my immortal home.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIHFxIQfSxc

I’ll fly away, performed by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch. “Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away, to a home on God’s celestial shore.”

https://youtu.be/sdRdqp4N3Jw?list=PL3BDAEBE555FB3CBF

Go Rest High on that Mountain, performed by Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, and Alison Krauss. No discussion of Gospel Bluegrass music is complete without Vince Gill’s epic Go Rest High on That Mountain, a song he penned in response to the death of country music singer Keith Whitley. Gill, an Oklahoma boy, is a talented songwriter, singer and guitarist whose work spans Bluegrass, country and rock.  His Bluegrass skills come out in this performance. “Go to heaven a shoutin’ love for the Father and the Son.”

https://youtu.be/NwFiWCUkk4M

So there you go—my guided tour through some of my favorite Bluegrass music that just happens to be Gospel.  If you’re having trouble deciding how to introduce someone to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, just head to YouTube, Spotify or one of your favorite streaming services and play them some Gospel Bluegrass music.  “Hallelujah, I’m ready to go!”

Easter 2017: He is risen!

Jesus at tomb with Mary Magdalene

Jesus at the tomb with Mary Magdalene

Matthew 28 (ESV) – He Is Risen

28 Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.

But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”

So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.

The Women Worship the Risen Lord

And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!” So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. 10

Radical Christianity

Jesus Calms the Storm

And Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea,

“Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

                                                                           —Mark 4:39*

Today it is nearly impossible to read a newspaper or watch a TV newscast without hearing something about “radical Islam.” The images of beheadings, torture, human rights abuses of women and the ethnic cleansing of Christians and other religious minorities send chills down one’s spine.

Our political leaders can’t agree on a proper response to radical Islam, but they all seem to agree that doing nothing is not a viable option. Many push for military action—even all out war. Others see diplomacy as the answer.  I believe the only effective response to radical Islam is radical Christianity.

History has shown that nothing can be more effective than Christianity in its purest form. It was radical Christianity that survived by hiding in the catacombs beneath Rome and slowly emerged to peacefully convert it from a pagan empire to a nation united under the banner of Jesus Christ. It was radical Christianity that led a small group of religiously oppressed pilgrims to establish a colony near Plymouth Rock.

Today it is radical Christianity that leads missionaries to leave the comforts of life in America to spread the Gospel in places where they face persecution and even death. It drives some men and women to refuse to renounce their faith in Christ, even if it means being tortured or killed.

Radical Christianity can counter radical Islam. What could be more radical than a religion that professes God became incarnate in human flesh, born of a virgin for the sole purpose of suffering a hideous death to set mankind free from sin?

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5: 7-8

What could be more radical than a religion that professes that there are no “good” people; that all men have sinned and fall short in the eyes of God; that it is impossible to earn one’s way into heaven?

…as it is written, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” —Roman: 7-8

What could be more radical than a religion that professes that salvation and eternal life are given freely by God to those who accept Jesus as their personal savior, profess that He is the son of God, believe that he died for the forgiveness of their sins and rose from the dead, and ask him into their lives?

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. —Ephesians 2: 8-9  

A U.S. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf recently came under intense criticism when she suggested one way to counter Islamic terrorism was through helping terrorists find jobs. She went on to suggest that “We can’t kill our way out of a way.” Now perhaps this is a bit simplistic, but Jesus’ radicalism turns logic on its head when he says:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.   —Matthew 5:43-45

While our elected officials seek various solutions for curbing radical Islam, radical Christians can follow Christ’s example and pray for our enemies. Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer is a radical Christian approach to countering radical Islam (www.atfp.org) through prayer. The organization’s website explains the approach as follows:

The Christian Response: Where is the Christian response to terrorism? If the struggle against violence done in the name of Islam is primarily spiritual, then defeating it requires a spiritual response.

Overcoming Fear: Terrorism inspires fear. According to Jesus, the antidote to fear is love. When we hate, we are reactive victims. When we love we have the initiative.  Love for country helps soldiers to risk their lives. Love for children enables parents to discipline them without being intimidated. Love for us took Jesus to the cross. Love for enemies will give courage to face, overcome, and transform them and the environment that breeds them.

Historical Precedent: Historically, Stephen was the first fatality in terrorism directed against Jesus’ followers. As Stephen died from stoning, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Later, Paul, who had supervised Stephen’s stoning, met Jesus in a vision and repented. Can we pray today like Stephen prayed then? Would Paul have repented if Stephen hadn’t prayed?

Are you willing to get radical for Christ? Visit the ATFP website and adopt a terrorist for prayer.

*All Bible quotes are taken from the English Standard Version   

Christians are partly to blame!

St Francis

“Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.”
                     —Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

As the book of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is truly nothing new under the sun. Listen to the words of Psalm 12 (NKJV):

Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases!
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
2 They speak idly everyone with his neighbor;
With flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
And the tongue that speaks proud things,
4 Who have said,
“With our tongue we will prevail;
Our lips are our own;
Who is lord over us?”
5 “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy,
Now I will arise,” says the LORD;
“I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.”
6 The words of the LORD are pure words,
Like silver tried in a furnace of earth,
Purified seven times.
7 You shall keep them, O LORD,
You shall preserve them from this generation forever.
8 The wicked prowl on every side,
When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.

Things in King David’s time sound remarkably similar to today. I hear many fellow believers complain that our country is slowly slipping into the cultural/social abyss—pick one. They use countless examples to justify their positions: the staggering divorce rate; rampant abortion; sexual promiscuity; widespread drug abuse; trashy movies and TV shows; endless wars; political corruption; greed; and extensive fraud, waste and abuse in government spending.

We Christians are free to blame anyone we choose for America’s current woes, but we should start by taking a good look in the mirror. We are partly to blame. Many of today’s social and cultural problems could be reduced and in some cases even eliminated if Christians would just start living like Christ taught us.

Once a person accepts God’s gift of salvation by placing faith in Christ as his personal Savior, something important happens. Like it or not, that person becomes a walking billboard for Christ to all of the unbelievers he knows. What unbelievers see in this Christian’s behavior serves to either honor or dishonor Christ. Does the Christian strive to be more Christlike, as the Bible teaches, or does he simply fall in and conform to the secular world’s pursuit of wealth, position, power and other forms of self-gratification?

A Christian’s behavior should reflect the Gospel to unbelievers. As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” Christ teaches us we should love one another and we should love our neighbors as ourselves. This requires work—getting one’s hands dirty from time to time. It’s usually messy dealing with human problems.  It’s not the sort of work that earns one a place in eternity. Christ did that for us and presented it as a free gift to those who accept him as Savior. Rather, it’s the kind of work that exemplifies the wisdom attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.”

According to an article I recently read , there are approximately 350,000 Christian church congregations in the United States. That figure amounts to a staggering 27 times more Christian congregations than McDonald’s restaurants. Just imagine how much different our country could be if each of these congregations dedicated itself to performing relational ministry in its surrounding community. We could change the direction of America’s social and cultural decline. The biggest mission field in the world is waiting just outside the door of your church.

There are millions of people in this country who need a helping hand and more importantly, need to hear the Gospel. Helping others can be a risky business. Are you willing to take a risk for Christ?  Know that He will provide you all the help you need.  Recall St. Paul’s words to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Take the gifts God has given you and put them to work outside the walls of your church. We can change the world!